On Jane Goodall and sharing reasons for hope

Posted on February 11th, 2014 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media by Alta

Here at the MAPA Project, we do our best, in our small way, to help conservation organisations and individuals make their work more visible and accessible. One – perhaps the main – reason we do this is because, in the words of Jane Goodall, “Only when people know will they care. Only when they care will they act. Only when they act can the world change”.

Indeed, when it comes to helping people know, and urging them to care and act,  few people have done as much as the incomparable Dr. Goodall.  A few months shy of her 80th birthday, she is still travelling around the world, telling her stories, and, like she can be seen doing here at the University of Cape Town’s Vice-Chancellor’s lecture just last week, spreading messages of hope.

In the lecture, Dr. Goodall expresses the hope that we can find a way of working with our minds and our our hearts in unison, a sentiment I found particularly sincere and fitting, having listened to a presentation  delivered by the Jane Goodall Institute’s vice president of conservation efforts, Lilian Pintea, at Google Earth Outreach’s Geo for Good user-summit in November last year. You might remember that we covered some of the highlights from this conference, including JGI’s  “Goodall, Gombe, and Google” tour, earlier this year.

A screenshot from the JGI “Goodall, Gombe and Google Tour”. Remember that you can create a story like this with your work – Software Advice has a very helpful write-up on how public benefit organisations can use this tool to craft their stories).

As much as Lillian’s talk, on that occasion, was about how JGI is leveraging technology to help them look after Chimpanzees in Africa, it was also a humble and heartfelt story of community, collaborative innovation  and throwing every tool at their disposal at understanding and improving life for chimpanzees and the complex social and ecological systems within which they live. A story of an organisation indeed working with their minds and hearts in unison.

Upon reflection it struck me that, in her UCT address, Jane doesn’t speak of “visions of hope” but “reasons for hope”.  Perhaps she can do this because this is something that she has, both in her personal capacity and through the work of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Root & Shoots programme, come to embody herself.

But don’t take my word for it – listen to her full speech in the video above, or go on a journey to Gombe to learn, through the story of one chimpanzee family, about some of the work JGI is doing with chimpanzees in Africa.

We know that Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots aren’t the only “reasons for hope” in African conservation. We know that many of you have similar “heart and mind” stories . We would love to hear, and help tell, them.


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11 Geo for Goodnesses to help you on your mapping way

Posted on January 9th, 2014 in General,Google Geo Tool Blog Series,Google Geo Tools by Alta

In November last year we were fortunate enough to travel to Mountain View, California to attend the Geo for Good 2013 summit. Being all about helping organisations and individuals make their work more visible and accessible using mapping tools, we thought we’d share some of what we learned at the summit with you.

Instead of doing this is the traditional “blog” format, though, we felt it would be more appropriate to take you on a journey around the world (admittedly spending much of the time in “our world”, Africa) with this tour.

Enjoy, and happy 2014!


Geo for Good 2013. Photo: Google Earth Outreach.



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Go on a tour of Mkhambathi Nature Reserve in Google Earth

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media,New Content by Alta

Protected areas are the cornerstone of global conservation efforts. They maintain functioning natural ecosystems, are set to act as refuges for biodiversity and maintain ecological processes that provide valuable ecosystem and cultural services to society.

Yet the idea of setting land aside for safeguarding and public enjoyment didn’t come about because of some cost-benefit or sustainability analysis or ecosystem service valuation. Rather, for hundreds of years, people who have advocated and worked to set aside special areas, be they indigenous communities in Ghana, or early advocates of the more modern concept of national parks, were driven to do so by a much simpler motivation: a love of nature.

To paraphrase the Senegalese naturalist Baba Moual: ultimately, we protect what we love.

However, whereas there is no shortage of places in Africa to love, we can only love what we know, or at least, know about. And in a world where our lives are increasingly disconnected and removed from nature, “to know” might require someone to tell us about our special places, what makes them so, and why they’re worth protecting.

One person who realizes the importance of this is photographer and writer Scott Ramsay.

In June 2011 Scott set off on his first “Year in the Wild”. In just over a year, he travelled to 31 of South Africa’s national parks and nature reserves. He interviewed rangers, community leaders, ecologists, activists, researchers and school kids, and translated what he had learned and discovered through photographs, blog posts, and magazine articles. His aim: to promote the appreciation of these wild places and to inspire people to go and visit them for themselves.

For best viewing, you can also play the tour in Google Earth. Download the KMZ file (17MB) for Google Earth by clicking on this link: http://goo.gl/AozLj

Being in the business of making conservation more visible and accessible ourselves, albeit through maps rather than photographs, we recently teamed up with Scott to create a virtual tour of the Wild Coast’s Mkhambathi Nature Reserve.  In combining the contextual power of Google Earth with Scott’s captivating photographs, we hoped that we could better share not only images, maps and information, but a little piece of what Scott calls “Mkhamathi’s special soul”.

In the video above you can see the result of that collaboration and, in three-and-a-half minutes, virtually travel to this little Wild Coast wonder. We hope that, through Scott’s photographs and the beautiful landscapes revealed in Google Earth, you will be sufficiently seduced by the cascading waterfalls, beach-trotting antelope, soaring vultures, rolling hills of grasslands, swamp forest patches and wild, pristine beaches  to go in search of ways you can experience Mkhambathi for yourself.

You might just find yourself falling in love with it.

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Tools for visualizing conservation on private land

Posted on November 26th, 2012 in General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

Few people will argue that protected areas – parks, nature reserves and other natural areas – are essential for biodiversity conservation. They assist in reducing deforestation, habitat and species loss, and support the livelihoods of over a billion people, while, according to IUCN’s latest report on the state of protected areas, containing 15% of the world’s carbon stock.  The same report shows how organisations and governments are working hard to secure more of it: in the last 20 years global coverage of areas has increased from 8.8% to 12.7% for terrestrial areas, and from 0.9% to 4% for marine areas.

However important formal protected areas are, it’s also undeniable that securing land for conservation via formal proclamation is not going to be enough for us to achieve our biodiversity goals. In South Africa’s Western Cape, for example, most of the province’s biodiversity lies within private ownership, and it is unrealistic that this land might be purchased by the state for conversion to Protected Areas.

For this reason, many national and provincial authorities have taken to “mainstreaming” biodiversity conservation by involving private landowners through stewardship initiatives, biodiversity agreements and other incentive-based or voluntary programmes.

These areas, the conservation efforts on them, and their overall contribution to the biodiversity estate are, however, not always all that well known by the general public. Needless to say, we at MAPA are thrilled to be involved in an initiative to help change this by making private conservation land, and conservation efforts on them, more visible and accessible with the help of free online geo tools.

Together with Conservation at Work, the umbrella body for conservation on private land in the Western Cape, we have put together a few resources specifically geared towards individuals conservancy members, stewardship site managers and other individuals active in conservation on private conservation areas:

  • On the 7th and 8th of February 2013, we will be running one of our popular Google Geo workshops at the University of Cape Town. This (free) workshop will be specifically tailored for the private conservation sector, and will teach highly practical tools for mapping, visualizing and sharing information about conservation efforts on private land. No prior programming or GIS experience is required!  To find out more and apply, visit http://geoforprivateconservation.mapatraining.org. Applications close 15 December 2012!
  • In conjunction with this opportunity, we are also making available a mapping toolkit.


The “Tools for mapping conservation on private land” website comprises a collection of online mapping resources to help you map your conservation efforts and areas, visualize problems and successes on private land, and communicate these maps and visualizations to colleagues, stakeholders, or the world.

On the site, you can learn how to add your project to MAPA’s registry of African conservation, how to create a shareable map for your projects, how to add your private protected land to Google Maps using Google Map Maker, how to communicate and visualise conservation with free online tools like Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables, and about upcoming in-person training on Geo Tools.

Whether you run a private game reserve, are an active conservancy member, or run a research project on a stewardship site, we hope you will help these resources helpful! We will be adding more articles and links to the site in the near future – please let us know what you would like to see on this site, and help us help you make conservation on private land more visible and accessible.

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Communicating Conservation with Google Geo Tools – Cape Flats style

Posted on July 6th, 2012 in General,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

As much as it is a pleasure to run trainings in other parts of our beautiful continent, it’s just as special being able to connect with conservationists here at home (which just happens to be a pretty important place for conservationists to be).

Two weeks ago, we had the privilege to do just that, as we showed 45 practitioners from non-profit and for-profit organisations, academia and the government how to use Google’s Geo Tools to communicate information and improve operations. Having run these workshops in the winelands and in the shadow of Devil’s Peak previously, we figured that it was the Cape Flats’ turn this time. Accordingly, we set up shop on the 5th floor of the University of the Western Cape’s state-of-the-art New Life Science building.

Full house on the first day of our training in the BCB departments’ 5th floor training room

One of the biggest reasons we love running Google Geo tool trainings is that we get to learn so much about what conservationists actually do on the ground, and how we can assist them with tools to communicate their efforts.  At this workshop we again saw the pressing need for practitioners to quickly and easily be able to visualise information to the public, stakeholders and colleagues, and we were delighted to see how quickly participants capitalised on the tools we were teaching them to do just that.

One example of this is PhD student Nicola Okes, who put together a crowd-sourcing application using Google Forms & Fusion Tables: anyone that has seen an otter, dead (red) or alive (yellow) on the Cape Peninsula can go to her website and contribute their finding, which will immediately display on a sightings map.



This workshop was also really special for a number of other reasons. For one, it was the most extensive one we had ever attempted. After “basic training” in Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables, participants could customise a training most suitable to their needs, choosing from sessions on Google Earth Tours, Open Data Kit, GIS & Google Earth, GPS in Google Earth, Google Maps API, Google Map Maker and Google Maps Engine.

March enthusiastically explains touring to a participant during one of the tea breaks

It was particularly exciting for us to be able to offer the latter two tools. Google Map Maker had only just become available in South Africa, so it was a real privilege to have Google’s Evans Arabu on hand to show participants how to put the places they care about on the map. Similarly, we loved that we were able to share the incredible geospatial capabilities of Google Maps Engine, a tool that is only just becoming available to nonprofits globally.

But perhaps the most outstanding thing for us about this workshop, from a personal point of view, was that it represented one further step in what we hope will be an ongoing and developing relationship with institutions  like SANBI and the University of the Western Cape. This training was a truly collaborative venture and we owe a really big debt of gratitude to the staff of the Biodiversity & Conservation Biology department at UWC. In particular, we’d like to thank Dr Richard Knight, Martin Cocks and Audrey King without whom we would definitely not have been able to pull this off.   We  hope that we can do this again sometime…


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MAPA Newsletter: New Developments and Northerly Drives

In the last three months we’ve been learning more about Zimbabwean conservation, released a brand new user-interface for finding and adding conservation projects , and have started to prepare for an exciting new workshop in Cape Town.  Here is our latest newsletter:

A brand new project user-interface and search page

One of our main jobs is to build a catalogue and map of Africa’s conservation projects. How well we achieve that almost entirely depends on how many conservationists use our website to add their work, which in turn largely depends on how easy it is for them to use it.

After quite a few iterations of just-not-quite-getting it right, we were excited to announce the release of a much cleaner and simpler new user-interface in March.  But don’t take our word for it – try it out yourself! Head over to mapa.maproject.org to search the database for protected areas, critical habitats, and of course, contributed conservation projects from across the continent. Then map your search in Google Earth!

Can’t find your project in the database? Add it! Simply register as a user, login, and fill in your projects’ details. As soon as you choose to make it live, others will be able to find it in the database, and see it on our Google Earth conservation map.

We hope that you’ll enjoy using this new system – as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and criticisms!

Zimbabwe Drive

At the end of March, with the help of our friends at Africa Geographic & Tracks4Africa, we embarked on a two month mission to get Zimbabwean conservation on the map – a drive that saw us connect with over a  hundred of the country’s most prominent and dedicated conservationists. During that time, we got to learn a little more about the projects these men and women work at, which include  environmental advocacy in the Zambezi valley, the research,  conservation and welfare of large carnivores,  on-the ground logistical support for Zimbabwe’s parks authorities and sustainable development through agricultural research and public-private partnerships – to name but a few.


Many of these Zimbabwean initiatives have already been added to our conservation map, and a few more will be live soon. Look out for that, a report back on the drive, and an exciting partnership with the Green Zambezi Alliance, in the six weeks.

Our Zimbabwean education wasn’t all “distance learning”, though! At the beginning of May, we also had the opportunity to travel up to Harare to meet a small group of Zimbabwean conservationists in person for a three day workshop on how to use Google’s mapping tools in their work, and how to use MAPA’s conservation mapping tool for their own benefit. This blog post has more.

Google Map Maker & Google Map Engine at our Cape Town training

Fresh of our mapping workshop at Mapumula in May, we announced another Google Geo Workshop for June, this time in Cape Town,  at UWC’s brand new Life Science building.

What’s particularly exciting about this training is that it will introduce two tools that are only just becoming available to South Africans, and nonprofits.

Google Map Maker, the tool that allows you to add the points of interests you care about to Google Maps, was launched South Africa just over a week ago. We’re so excited that Evans Arabu from the Google Map Maker team will be joining us at this workshop to show environmentalists how to give parks, reserves, landscape features and those obscure study sites nobody has ever heard of, their rightful and correct place on the map!

Another relatively new Google Geo Tool that will feature at the workshop is Google Maps Engine, a revolutionary geospatial tool that allows organisations to manage their data in the cloud and easily make and share maps using Google Earth, Maps and Android phones. Globally, it’s already being successfully utilised by organisations like World Wildlife Fund, Eyes on the Forest and the Living Oceans Society to manage and publish critical environmental data,  and we look forward to giving our workshop participants a first glance at how this technology can be leveraged for their own organisations.
The Overberg district municipality’s wetlands & critical biodiversity areas, mapped using Google Maps Engine (data downloaded from BGIS: http://bgis.sanbi.org, copyright C.A.P.E)

That’s it for this quarter’s newsletter! We look forward to sharing more conservation stories, tools, and of course, maps, with you in the next three months!



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Making maps at Mapumula: notes from our Google Geo workshop in Zim

Posted on May 28th, 2012 in General,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

Over the last couple of months we’ve been putting a lot focus on building a catalogue and map of Zimbabwean conservation efforts.  Whereas this drive is, in part, an attempt to organise and document information that may be useful to others, it’s aim is equally to communicate stories and efforts in a way that may promote understanding and inspire action.

One way MAPA works more broadly to achieve the latter goal is by running trainings to equip the people who are best placed to communicate these efforts and issues – conservationists themselves – with the tools to do so. It was for one such training, as well as to connect with the Zimbabwean conservationists we had been speaking to, that we found ourselves at Mapumula Lodge just outside Harare at the beginning of May.

Prior to arriving at our rustic training venue we were a little worried about internet connectivity and power cuts, but our hosts had worked hard to make sure that those fears were quickly dispelled. Between the smooth technical experience and the late-autumn sun, bushveld-air, home-cooked catering and twenty dedicated and enthusiastic participants this was easily one of our most enjoyable workshops to date!


After two intensive hands-on days of learning how to use Google Earth, Google Maps, Fusion Tables and the Open Data Kit, our participants had the opportunity on the third workshop day to apply their new skills to their own projects. Prior to the workshop, many of them had never used some of these tools, so we were extra impressed to see the projects that participants chose to work on. These included mapping schools and cattle dip-tanks with Fusion Tables, a Google Earth tour of points of interest on a private conservancy, and two applications using Google Forms & Fusion Tables to create a crowd-sourced map.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Zimbabwe – not only did we have the pleasure of meeting a group of extremely dedicated conservationists, we also had the privilege of travelling back to South Africa via the wild open spaces of the beautiful Gonarezhou National Park. We are so grateful to all the Zimbabweans who welcomed us into their conservation lives and helped to make this workshop specifically, and the (still ongoing) conservation drive more generally, a success.

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Announcing a Google Geo Tool training in Cape Town

Posted on May 14th, 2012 in General,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

Through our searchable online database and Google Earth map, the MAPA Project hopes to make African conservation more visible and accessible.  Over the last couple of years, we’ve coupled the development of our platform with hands-on workshops in which we further equip scientists and practitioners in the environmental sector with freely available and easy to use tools for communicating, visualising and mapping their conservation work.

Hot on the heels of our recent Google Geo Tool workshop in Zimbabwe (look out for a report back on that early next week!), we’re excited to announce that we’ll be bringing another Google Geo Tool workshop to Cape Town,  It will run from the 25th to the 27th of June 2012.

This time we’re teaming up with the University of the Western Cape’s Biodiversity & Conservation Biology department. The course will be run from their new, state-of-the-art computer training facility (pictured below), located in the swanky New Life Science building on UWC’s Bellville campus.


As with all our workshops, our workshops are designed for conservation practitioners of all levels of qualifications and assume no programming or GIS skills. You don’t need to be a GIS boffin or tech wiz to attend!


At the training we will show you how to get the most out of Google Mapping tools (particularly Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables) to support decision making, increase public awareness, and create maps for your conservation project or organisation. We also hope to use this event to show you how you can use the MAPA Project’s conservation map and searchable database, to showcase your work.


Applications will remain open until the 15th of June. We will be accepting successful applicants in on a rolling basis, so apply early to avoid disappointment!

Here are the important details again:

Hope to see you in June!

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The Zimbabwe Drive kicks off!

Posted on March 29th, 2012 in General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

In the last two months, we’ve been telling you lots about our collaborative drive to create a map and registry of Zimbabwean conservation projects.  Today we’re very happy to announce that yesterday, a little belatedly, this drive officially kicked off.  It will be running until the 5th of May.

Gonarezhou National Park (Photos: Peter Levey)

In the next six weeks, if you’re a conservationist working in Zimbabwe, we would like to ask you to go to our brand new, easy-to-use, online project portal, register as a user, and add your conservation project(s) to MAPA’s database.  Your project will automatically appear on our publically available Google Earth layer, and searchable online map.

As a little extra encouragement, we’re running a number of other promotions and initiatives as part of this drive. You can find out more about these over at our Zimbabwean focus site, but, just to whet your appetite, here are a few highlights:

  • A free Africa Geographic/Africa Birds & Birding subscription and Tracks4Africa GPS map – just for adding your project!

Every project leader who adds a conservation project (active/completed in Zimbabwe) will receive a free 6-month Africa Geographic/Birds and Birding digital subscription and a Tracks4Africa GPS map for Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Tracks4Africa will also be giving away a free GPS to one randomly selected project.

A big thank you to Africa Geographic and Tracks4Africa for this great sponsorship!

  • Google Geo Tool workshop in Harare!

We will be running a 3-day Google Geo Tool workshop in Harare, from the 3rd-5th of May. At the workshop we will show you how to get the most out of Google Earth, Google Maps, Fusion Tables and other tools for your conservation project.

Learn more and sign up here, if you haven’t already.

  • Google Geo Tool Initiative: maps for your project!

Would you like to see your animal collar tracks animated in Google Earth, create a map of your projects’ activities for your sponsors, share your GIS data with collaborators or create a mini-documentary in Google Earth? Let us know what you would like to do, and we’ll help you do it.

For more information, and to get a few ideas for your own project, head over to our Google Geo tool page.

We can scarcely wait to learn about the real work that goes into Zimbabwean conservation, the issues these conservationists face and the threats they are seeking to address.  In the next six weeks, we’ll be sharing these stories with you as they come in – we’ll be posting to this blog, as well as to our TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook profiles.

If you’d like to learn more about our Zimbabwean conservation focus, head over to the drive’s website.  And if you do any conservation work in Zimbabwe, we hope that you’ll add your project today!


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Google Geo Tool workshop in Zimbabwe!

Posted on March 19th, 2012 in General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

One of the main goals of the MAPA Project is to make conservation more visible. For this reason we marry our project very tightly to both using and teaching tools that can help conservationists visualise and communicate their work, be it to policy makers, the general public, or peers. It is in this spirit that we occasionally put on Google Geo Tool workshops – events where we teach conservationists how to use Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables to visualise, map and communicate their work.

Google Geo Tool workshop in Harare, 3-5 May 2012

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be running one of these workshops in Harare, from the 3rd to the 5th of May 2012.  You don’t need to be a GIS boffin or tech wiz to attend, only comfortable with using your computer – our workshops are designed for conservation practitioners of all levels of qualifications and assume no programming or GIS skills.

At the training we will introduce you to using Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables for supporting decision making, increasing public awareness, and creating maps for your conservation project or organisation. We hope to also use this event to tell you more about how you can use the MAPA Project’s conservation map, to showcase Zimbabwean conservation projects (your work!) and most importantly, to meet you!

You can apply to attend here.

Google Geo Tool Initiative: Let us help you visualise your work!

As part of our special focus on Zimbabwe, we will go a step further than just teaching you how to use Google Earth, Maps and Fusion Tables – we’ll actually use these tools to create or help create material specifically for your project. For the next six week, if you’re a Zimbabwean conservationist or working in Zimbabwe, you can tell us what map or visualisation you need and we will either help you to create it or point you in the right direction.

We’ve put together a few examples on our Zimbabwe conservation site specifically to help guide you through the types of projects we can put together for you.  Rembember that we will teach you how to create projects at the workshop, and that there are a wealth of online tutorials available to walk you step by step through creating your own project.  For each of the example project on our site, we’ve pointed you to one or more of these tutorials in case you’d like to have a stab at creating a similar project with your own data.

We’ll bring you more news on the Zimbabwe conservation registry drive, including how and where to add your projects, very soon. Until then, we look forward to receiving your applications for the workshop and hearing about your conservation projects!

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